For Dr. Manasa Mantravadi, ensuring that children’s meals, both at home and at school, are healthy and sustainable has always been of utmost importance. A pediatrician at the Riley Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis, Dr. Mantravadi is a mother of twins, and she is no stranger to the myriad of plastic dish options offered for kids these days. In 2018, the American Academy of Pediatrics announced the health concerns in plastic dishware, particularly with child growth and development. She knew she had to switch to something safer and more sustainable.
Growing up in an Indian household, she used stainless steel plates, yet she was shocked when many of her friends and coworkers at Riley expressed interest. “It kind of made me think, this isn’t really the standard here,” said Dr. Mantravadi. “I kind of started researching on the market and what was out there … turns out, there’s very few options.”
The discovery led her to start Ahimsa, a colorful, stainless steel dishware brand geared toward children. Dr. Mantravadi began the brand to provide healthy and sustainable options that would be a safer alternative to plastic. Everything about it is geared toward being the best for children’s meals and the environment.
The color of the dishes, one of the most distinct aspects of the product, was designed to make mealtime eating exciting for kids.
The process of coloring is environmentally-conscious, using no harmful paints or dyes. In addition, the products are packaged in 100% reusable cardboard, entirely omitting plastics.
Dr. Mantravadi describes her line, saying, “I wanted to create something that was safe for children, safe for the planet, but still fun because, developmentally, children need to be excited about meal time for them to eat.”
The brand name also has a special meaning. “Ahimsa” is a Sanskrit word and roughly translates to “do no harm.” The phrase is a crucial tenant of the Hippocratic Oath taken by every new physician upon becoming a doctor. It acts as a bridge between her professional life and business.
Since she started Ahimsa in 2018, her business has exploded. Initially only looking to families in the greater Indianapolis area, the brand has found its way to more than 8,000 customers in all 50 states.
With the success of the brand, Dr. Mantravadi decided to tackle a more significant issue: school lunch trays. “The school lunch tray hasn’t been changed, really, since the 1940s,” she explains. “That’s a big problem.”
In response, she talked with the Orchard School in Indianapolis. Eventually, she helped supply the whole school with reusable stainless steel lunch trays. According to Dr. Mantravadi, the lunch trays have received nothing but praise. “The children love it, the staff love it in terms of being able to use it; it’s very easy to clean, which is really important to me as a mom,” she said. Plus, they’ve spurred students to learn more about other sustainable practices like recycling, reducing waste, and composting.
Dr. Mantravadi won’t just stop at one school. She wants to get steel lunch trays in every school in America. “That’s my big dream is to have changed the whole system. And hopefully, really advocate for better policies and oversight of the products we’re putting in front of children,” she says. Dr. Mantravadi views this as just an extension of pediatrics and the continued pursuit of “doing no harm.”